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Committee delays decision on Hart-Miller-Meeks challenge

·3 min read

Mar. 10—WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Administration Committee declined Wednesday to make a decision on Mariannette Miller-Meeks's motion to dismiss an election challenge filed by Democrat Rita Hart.

Miller-Meeks was certified the winner of Iowa's second congressional district in the U.S. House, but a slim six-vote margin and 22 uncounted ballots led Hart to challenge the results. Miller-Meeks has been provisionally seated while the dispute is settled.

The vote to postpone consideration of the motion was among party lines, but passed. The vote neither dismisses the complaint nor does it find that Hart's complaint has merit, it simply delayed a decision.

Hart filed a challenge under the Federal Contested Election Act, which gives the House jurisdiction to rule on election challenges. The challenge came after a district-wide recount, but Republicans have criticized Hart's decision not to appeal through the state's court system.

The committee's ranking member Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican, said Hart's decision not to appeal through Iowa's court system is cause for the committee not to hear the challenge.

"It will be one of the greatest mistakes this House makes to take up an election contest with a candidate who side-stepped the courts and instead turned to a partisan process in the House because they knew they could not win any other way," Davis said. "Sounds familiar doesn't it?"

California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the committee, rebutted that there is no precedence for the committee to dismiss claims simply because all state remedies weren't yet exhausted.

"The American people deserve to know who actually won this election, and the people in the 2nd Congressional District deserve to be represented by that person," Lofgren said.

Hart is requesting that the House committee investigate and determine that 22 uncounted ballots should have been counted, as they were legal votes under Iowa's election law. If she prevails, she would overcome the six-vote deficit and win the seat by nine votes.

Alan Ostergren, the Miller-Meeks campaign's attorney, said the vote Wednesday was merely procedural.

"Rita Hart's contest has no more merit today than it did when it was filed," he said in a statement. "Her refusal to put her claims before neutral judges in Iowa tells us everything we need to know about the weakness of her case."

According to the certified results, Miller-Meeks tallied 196,964 votes to Hart's 196,958. The two battled to replace the retiring Democrat Dave Loebsack who held the seat for seven terms.

The contesting candidate in almost all elections challenged under the Federal Contested Elections Act has failed. The last time the House overturned a certified election result was from Indiana in 1984 when the House Democratic majority did not seat Republican Richard McIntyre. Eventually, the House determined after a recount that Democrat Frank McCloskey had won.

It took four months for the dispute to be settled. The day following the election, McIntyre led by 34 votes. After a state-ordered recount, he was certified the winner by 418 votes. House Democrats argued 4,800 citizens were disenfranchised after their ballots were declared invalid by state officials.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.